Apple iPhone 4: What Apple nailed and missed

This year’s iPhone 4 update was different from previous years because of the avalanche of leaks that hit the Interwebs. Apple was able to keep a few surprises in store though and we take a look at what it got right and what it may have missed out on. Hop on after the jump and let us know what you think in the comments.

What we got

During our WWDC preview, we nailed most of the new features in the iPhone 4. Most of the upgrades weren’t necessarily mind-blowing but I think the iPhone 4’s screen is more impressive than many of us thought it would be. Dubbed “Retina Display,” this 3.5-inch screen has 326 pixels per inch, which should approach the visual clarity of freaking paper. This is supposed to make text much sharper, as well as make videos and images much more vibrant. Apple obviously thinks this is the best display around on mobile phones but let’s see how it holds up to direct sunlight and everyday usage. I would have also liked a bit more screen size, as the massive 4.3-inch screen on the EVO 4G has absolutely spoiled me.

One thing iPad users will tell you is that it’s blazing fast and part of that is the A4 chip inside. That chip will now be inside the iPhone 4, which should help it better handle the multitasking that’s in iPhone OS iOS 4. Of course, this could lead to battery woes but Apple has included a larger battery that should provide more talk and browsing time. There’s also 802.11n WiFi, which is still curiously lacking in many top-shelf handsets (I’m ignoring you, BlackBerry Pearl 3G).

As for the new design, we were torn when we first saw it hit the web but the finalized version is looking mighty nice. It’s all glass and steel, which should feel nice in the hand. At 9.3 mm thick, it’s also the thinnest smartphone in the world, which is quite a feat with all the anorexic devices we’ve seen lately. What I like is that it’s not just a cosmetic upgrade, as the slits on the side of the device are part of an integrated antenna system that could boost reception. This could be a godsend for those in major metropolitan cities, although AT&T still has to do its part.

With 8-megapixel shooters on the Droid Incredible and EVO 4G, the iPhone was looking a little behind. The new Apple smartphone will have a 5-megapixel camera that focuses more on the image sensors instead of just raw megapixels. It has a backside illuminated sensor and an LED flash to help with low-light photos and it can also record 720p HD video at 30 frames per second and the new iMovie for iPhone app was a neat and somewhat unexpected announcement.

As expected, the iPhone 4 will include video calling. Called “FaceTime,” this allows users with the latest iPhone to make two-way video calls over WiFi. It seems to work as we thought it would but it will be interesting to see how it performs when (or if) it’s allowed over mobile data networks.

What we didn’t get

Not much, really. The only thing I can really say I’m disappointed in is that there was no mention of a streaming iTunes service. We were hoping Apple would provide some sort of digital storage locker of all your purchased content that could be accessed by any iDevice through the cloud. This would alleviate the need for a lot of on-board storage and it would make Apple’s mobile devices much better cloud-devices (for heck’s sake, the Kin phones are better than the iPhone at this, at least in terms of streaming music). Apple has recently shut down the music-streaming service Lala too, so we thought it would take that technology and integrate it into the next iPhone. Ah well, I guess we can have something to look forward to during the Fall refresh of the iPod.

There were also some indications that Apple could include near-field communication technology for mobile payments or for strong social networking. That turned out to be rubbish, at least for now. There’s no removable battery or system-wide Facebook integration (at least, this wasn’t touched upon) but we may have been too hasty to expect these.

Overall, I think Apple did a strong job with the latest iPhone, both in terms of hardware and software. It’s not light years ahead of the competition like it was with the original iPhone but I still think it’s a few paces ahead.

How say you, readers? What did Apple do well with this update? What did it muff? What’s the one thing you really wanted to see?

  • jon

    they copy nokia design

  • JMurph

    Personally, outside of the screen having a great resolution, there wasn't anything worth being excited about. Video chat only on wifi? Lame. 3mm Slimmer than the Evo? Not exciting. iMovie? Gotta wait to use it to see. But damn that screen is pretty.

    The problem with apple is this: This is it for the year. By the holiday season, 1.5ghz is going to be the base for smart phones on the high end. Eventually, Apple will be drowned by the millions of drops of android and wmp7. It'll all play out alot like the Apple vs. Ms battle. When hardware companies compete, they will drive their prices down.

  • Dude

    What happened to the once mentioned Mobile Hot Spot from last week?

  • @WrlsFanatic

    I think it's funny that people drunk on the Apple kool-aid just gloss over how pathetic their Facetime offering is. Wifi-only, and can only talk to other iPhone 4 phones. Apple's sell on this is laughable. Talking to people when a baby is born? What hospital has wifi? You're not even supposed to be on your phone!! Oh, and grandma and grandpa better have the latest and greatest iPhone… not likely. Phones like the EVO allow installing THEIR programs which would allow you to talk to someone on a desktop (Skype, et al) or another phone with those services (Fring or Qik) installed.

    As for "how it looks when it comes to mobile data networks," I'll tell you how it looks: expensive. Netflix streaming, uploading 720p video, and then you think you're going to stream video over a cellular network and stay under your 2GB cap? Not likely.

    As for the screen… what problem does that solve? Sure, I can read text when it's smaller, or I could take a split second, zoom in, and read it anyway. I'd much rather have had a larger screen that provides me more room to read on. Maybe it helps a bit, but it doesn't close the gap between their 3.5" screen and the EVO's 4.3" screen, or even a 4" screen like the Galaxy S.

    Let's talk about where they missed. How about removable storage? Aren't we at that level yet? I have a micro SD card that I save all my photos and music on. I put it in my camera – real camera – when I take pictures, and I put it in my USB adapter in my car when I drive so I can listen to the music on it. If I have a phone with a micro SD slot, I can put that same card in my phone and either show my in-laws pictures of the kids or the dog, or I can plug my headphones in and use it as an MP3 player. Instead of letting me buy my own, CHEAP 16GB cards, Apple charges me $100 to get an extra 16GB of storage.

    How long do we have to buy what Jobs sells – in the metaphorical sense – and keep towing the company line that Apple is the best product out there? For the first time, Apple is behind. Let's just admit it and move on.

    • Simon


  • westy

    Marin Perez please explain how Apple is still a few paces ahead of its competitors? From other then screen resolution the phone is pretty much a catch up to industry standards.

    • Marin

      I did kind of toss that out there but the iPhone experience has never really been about the specs, rather its the integration of hardware and software. I think this one does give it that technical advantage (in terms of the screen, size) as well as the polish of its software.

      Believe me, I'm not Apple fanboy, as I'm carrying two Android phones on me right now. But I do have an iPod Touch, and there is an undeniable elegance to the software that Android, RIM, etc. just haven't matched. Yeah, I know you sacrifice openness and choice to get that but most customers don't really care.

      I'm darn tempted to make this my next primary phone despite the cruddy coverage in San Francisco.

      • westy

        True the iOS4 is smooth as butter but that has always been the case. All of the features announced are nothing new that the industry competitors havent done. I do own a touch myself and the lack of cloud integration is huge, I believe someone else from Intomobile mentioned that in their article.

        I do kind of get what your saying but to each their own i guess. At the end of the day, keep up the good work. You guys are one of my favorite Gadget sites.

  • Avoid

    Android 2.2 FroYo with Adobe Flash 10.1

    apple need NOT apply

    Stream all sorts of goodness. The EVO 4G has it built-in even though it shipped with 2.1.

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